Last nightâs wind has left my office windows decorated with little circlets of semi-transparent snow.Â I look out through them to a snowy landscape, whereÂ skyâs edgeÂ and landâs edgeÂ blend and blur, the only distinct shapes beingÂ the steadfastÂ oaks and maplesÂ that stand guard along theÂ valley rim.Â The wind is swirling around the house, sculpting wave-shaped drifts.Â Itâs -16 Celsius, and with the wind off the Bay of Fundy, that, my friends, is cold.
The first few winters we spent in Nova Scotia (this is our fourth), we had successive winter storms, dumping large amounts of snow, followed by sudden thaws and melts.Â This year, itâs more a matter ofÂ âsnow on snow, snow on snow,â as Christina Rosettiâs plaintive carol, âIn the Bleak Mid-Winterâ puts it.Â So the big excitement is trying out our new snow-shoesânot the old style that looked like truncated tennis rackets, but the new high-tech ones with cleats like dragonâs teeth underneath.Â Camâs been out on his, but Iâm saving the pleasure.Â Perhaps for a slightly warmer day.
Speaking of snow:Â Â Â this winter, on snowy evenings by our woodstove with its dancing fire, I have read a couple of novels by Ignazio Silone:Â Bread and WineÂ Â (1936; rev. 1955; tr. from the Italian by Harvey Fergusson II, 1962.Â New York:Â Signet Class, New American Library, 1963), and The Seed Beneath the SnowÂ (tr. from the Italian by Frances Frenaye.Â New York and London:Â Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1942).Â Â I still have to find FontamaraÂ Â to finish reading this trilogy, but I was deeply struck by Siloneâs critique of all political ideologies as paths to salvation.Â In Bread and Wine, his main character, Pietro Spina,Â has abandoned his Catholic faith and embraced Marxism, only to findÂ that this political philosophy, appealing as it isÂ in theory,Â Â fails to transform hearts and leads to nihilism.
In The Seed Beneath the Snow, the same character begins a cautious rapprochement with the faith, partlyÂ through the example ofÂ the self-giving of his grandmother,Â and partly through his recognition ofÂ the humanity of a deaf-mute, tellingly called âLâInfante.âÂ The animus against the church in this novel is focused through Fascism, with a central symbol being the attempt of the local Facist leader to convince a village workman to add the fasces to the cross.Â âI want to start my work at the point of greatest resistance,â the innovator on behalf of the State says.Â Â His dialogue partner says simply, âI should like to warn youâ¦that the Cross is something dangerous, a two-edged weapon.Â Youâd better leave it to the priests, who know how to use itâÂ (p. 141).Â The Seed Beneath the Snow, Silone seems to be saying in this quite wonderfully rich novel, is the faith in ChristÂ implanted in his Pietroâs heart through baptism and early childhood instruction, and nurtured through those few who love him when he is a hunted man.Â The hope for Italy under theÂ heel of Fascism lies in theÂ seed ofÂ faith in the hearts ofÂ discounted and disheartened believers.Â Reading these books now, after the failures of Fascism and Marxism to deliver the utopian dreams they promised,Â urgently commends aÂ trulyÂ Cross-shaped discipleship, like that shown by a few in the novel,Â as being,Â still,Â âthe seed beneath the snow.âÂ Â Â
I found these novels on one of my serendiptous visits to âThe Odd Book,â a rather magical second-hand bookstore in Wolfville (www.theoddbook.ca).Â What I love about a second-hand bookstore (and this one is especially good, drawing on the libraries ofÂ the well-read and well-educated communityÂ that surrounds Acadia University and AcadiaÂ Divinity College) is that I go in with oneÂ idea of what I might want to read,Â and most oftenÂ come out with something entirely different.Â Â Here I haveÂ met writers I have heard about but not had time to read before: P. D. James, and now Ignazio Silone; even more exciting to a book-lover like me, I have found writers I had completely missed:Â British mid-2oth century writers like Barbara Pym and Storm Jamieson, who join with Elizabeth Goudge and Muriel Spark now in forming a cohort of articulate, thoughtful British women writers I want to explore more thoroughly.Â Â
When I know exactly the book I want & which I canât find at âThe Oddbookâ,Â IÂ go to www.abebooks.com for that siteâs amazinglyÂ powerful, quick connection to many hundreds of independent booksellers.Â I have yet to search for a title I cannot find there.Â But when I want to browse, to have the fun of stumbling on someone new to meâ¦itâs an hour in âThe Odd Bookâ that I crave.Â Â Â
Â More another timeâ¦I need to get those snow-shoes on.Â Or, perhaps, grab a book and put another stick of wood on the fire.